Cooper Canyon Falls is a beautiful and relatively easily-accessed waterfall in the San Gabriel high country. Just off the Burkhart Trail outside of the deservedly popular Buckhorn Campground, this is wonderful short day hike if you’re camping in the region, a great introduction to the high country, or a quick stop-over on the longer route to Will Thrall Peak (or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, on the way to the Devil’s Punchbowl).
Begin at the end of the Buckhorn Campground, following the signs for the Burkhart Trail. There are a few parking spots near an outhouse and a very prominent trailhead sign, which also marks the Burkhart Trail as part of the High Desert National Recreation Trail, a 27-mile route from Buckhorn Campground to Vincent Gap via the Mojave Desert.
Hit the trail, and you’re immediately stepping into the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness, a 27,040-acre federally protected Wilderness Area. When in a Wilderness Area, it’s especially important to practice Leave No Trace principles. In addition, there are several regulations in effect in this Wilderness Area to protect its character, so make sure you have your dog leashed and please try to remain relatively quiet while you’re hiking. You don’t need a permit unless you are in a group exceeding 25 people.
Now that you’ve gotten that business out of the way, it’s time to enjoy the hike!
If this is your first time in the San Gabriel high country, you’re apt to be a little surprised. Unlike the more accessible and more heavily trafficked front range, the high country is short on the sage scrub and chaparral that make up the majority of the south-facing peaks in the range. Here, towering Douglas fir and Jeffrey pines dominate the landscape, while the higher elevations, northern slopes, and shaded canyons often mean significantly cooler temperatures than what you’d experience back in the city.
Even in the late summer at the tail end of an extended drought, there was plenty of green to go around here:
Just to your east, you may be able to hear the rushing sounds of a branch of Little Rock Creek below the trail. There are two small cascades along this route, although the trail stays well above them (and sadly, out of view).
The trail continues following the creek north through gorgeously wooded and bouldered landscapes. When you get some breaks in the tree cover, you’ll be able to make out towering, rugged peaks in nearly every direction. All in all, it’s an incredibly lovely stretch of trail.
The trail makes a steady but moderate descent and hops across a creek bed at the 1.3 mile mark. At 1.4 miles, stay right at the junction to hop onto the Pacific Crest Trail / Silver Moccasin Trail for a hot minute.
At just past the 1.5 mile mark, the trail makes another descent while the creek flows to your left. Look for a well-worn series of use trails descending to the canyon floor at this point.
Carefully descend this use trail, scrambling if you need to. There are ropes to help guide you to the bottom (and help get you back up), but they’re definitely more of an aid than a necessity.
At the bottom of the short scramble, you’ll find yourself face to face with Cooper Canyon Falls – a small, mossy cascade with a lovely shallow reflecting pool at its base. It’s a great place to have a picnic or just to relax to the sound of flowing water.
When I hiked this route, it was the tail end of summer during a drought year, so the falls weren’t really falling that much. But during wet years – and especially during the spring – this is a pretty epic place to be.
When you’re done, return back to the trailhead the way you came in.
For an extra challenge, consider hiking to Will Thrall Peak, or continuing the Burkhart Trail all the way to the Devil’s Punchbowl (assuming you’ve arranged an extra long car shuttle). You can also take the PCT west along Cooper Canyon, which will put you out on the Angeles Crest Highway near Cloudburst Summit. A walk east along the Angeles Crest will return you to Buckhorn Campground.
Very good. The Burkhart Trail is well-maintained this section near Buckhorn Camp is well traveled. There is some scrambling required down to the bottom of Cooper Canyon Falls, and a section where previous visitors have left some ropes tied up in helpful spots.
The Buckhorn Campground has 38 first-come, first-served campsites in a heavily wooded, 6,300-foot elevation, extremely beautiful setting among old pines and cedars. The campground is fairly popular and may fill up quickly, especially on summer weekends. Campground fee is $12 per night with 2 vehicles / 8 people maximum per site. Campground is closed during the winter months.
High country campgrounds may close due to weather conditions. Call the Los Angeles River Ranger District for more information at (818) 899-1900.
Take the Angeles Crest Highway 33.9 miles east of the exit off the 210 in La Cañada Flintridge. Shortly after you pass the Mount Waterman Ski Area, enter the Buckhorn Campground on your left. Drive through the campground, following the signs for the Burkhart Trail. Park in the day-use lot and display your Adventure Pass. If the campground is closed, you’ll have to park on the Angeles Crest and hike in. Note that the Google Maps Directions wants to send you past the Buckhorn Campground.
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